'Splitting at the seams': Newcastle surf clubs draw line in the sand over funding | poll

HELP US: Stockton Surf Club president Trevor Upton says the beach's clubhouse is 'splitting at the seams'. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers
HELP US: Stockton Surf Club president Trevor Upton says the beach's clubhouse is 'splitting at the seams'. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

NEWCASTLE’S surf clubs say they are in desperate need for funding to replace decaying facilities that are behind the times.

A Newcastle Herald analysis of the state of the city’s surf clubs has revealed the majority operate from substandard facilities – despite surf lifesaving being a high participation community activity.

A sign of the frustration in the surf lifesaving fraternity, Cooks Hill – the largest surf club in the Hunter – last year pressed ahead with a rebuild of its facilities despite not having enough money to finish the build, banking everything on the state government and council agreeing to fund the next stage sometime this year. Stockton Surf Club has stopped large recruitment drives because its clubhouse is “splitting at the seams”, and unable to cope with a surge in nippers, while Newcastle Surf Club does not have a permanent storage room and the building has ventilation issues.

Dixon Park, Merewether and Stockton surf clubs all have no disabled access.

Hunter Surf Lifesaving chief executive officer Rhonda Scruton said the building issues painted a worrying picture for the future, admitting the organisation’s members were growing tired of “spending their time fundraising”. “We are noticing – particularly among the younger members – they don’t want to go out and beg for money for buildings that are well-past capacity,” she said. “We worry it will affect membership. Not everyone wants to be part of a club when you spend half the time fundraising.”

RACK AND RUIN: The decay inside Cooks Hill Surf Club, which is being rebuilt. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

RACK AND RUIN: The decay inside Cooks Hill Surf Club, which is being rebuilt. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

Lake Macquarie and Port Stephens clubs are considered in far better shape than Newcastle’s. The problem for the six Newcastle clubs, Ms Scruton said, was being hamstrung by their own facilities. Many of the clubs are unable to raise large sums of money through venue hire because the function rooms do not meet market expectations. “It’s like having an albatross around your neck,” Ms Scruton added.

The club buildings are owned by Newcastle council, with the cost of bringing all six up to scratch estimated to run into the tens of millions.

It is why the city’s surf clubs are increasingly looking to the state government for help. However, the state government’s surf club grant program, worth $2 million per year, with a maximum of $350,000 per surf club, is considered inadequate.

Stockton Surf Club president Trevor Upton said the funding uncertainty had prevented his club from launching wide-scale recruitment drives.

“We want to be able to go out areas such as Raymond Terrace and Medowie, but we can’t because an influx of nippers would overload our facilities,” he said. 

“This is really important for the future of the club. If we had a facility that we could push, we would, but right now it’s splitting at the seams.”